Nearly halfway into my 92 Days of Summer blog, for which I’ve challenged myself to find one thing of note to do, see, or taste for every day of this New York City summer, last week I finally decided that it was time for Shakespeare in the Park. Before I go any further, let me clarify… By ‘challenged’, I do not mean that there is a shortage of things to do here in this marvelous metropolis; rather, I mean that not just anything can find a spot on my list. I care only to share and yes, I guess boast a little, about the things that I find extraordinary! In my imagination this event would fit the bill—Twelfth Night, in Central Park, starring the lovely…Anne Hathaway.
Word around town is that the line for tickets can be rather long, as they are free, and if you really want them, you have to show up early. Yeah, ok, I thought. I’m currently unemployed—it’s not like I don’t have the time. So before going to bed the night before I was set to go, I got online in search of tips so that I would be most prepared. On one page of a generally trustworthy source, I read that the best chance of getting tickets is by joining the line, in Central Park, between 8 and 10 a.m. Easy enough. But, being one who cannot boast punctuality as a strong suit, I decided I would aim for seven.
In the end, I spent a total of twenty-one hours over three mornings sleeping in the park (as if I didn’t have a regular roof over my head) before landing two of the more or less golden tickets.
Day 1 – Monday:
At 7:50am I arrived at the 81st street C train stop and headed into the park. Slung over my shoulder was a medium sized tote packed with an assortment of items I believed would adequately carry me through the day with regard to hunger, boredom and fatigue should I encounter any of them while laying in wait. The contents of my bag included: book to read, Muji tablet with pen and pencil for taking notes, bottle of water, Lara Bar, peach, turkey and cheddar roll-ups, cucumber slices, towel, phone, money, metro card.
Unsure of exactly where I was headed, I hopped on the trail of a woman carrying a tote bag with blanket, whom I assumed was on the same mission. Indeed she was! Upon reaching the line’s end, which to our delight was in a partial sunny/partial shady patch of grass, we unfolded our blankets and in unison, sighed at the sight of the line ahead of us. (Later in the day en route back from the bathroom, I counted 278 people.) Minutes later another woman arrived behind me and while she proceeded to put together a folding camp chair, we began to chat. For the next six hours we shared stories about life in New York City, about her kids, my blogs, her art and of course our thoughts on the chance of actually walking away with tickets. Our little group that started out a random sampling of strangers, by the end of the day, was rather like a comfortable circle of friends.
I know, the idea of hanging out in a patch of grass with people you don’t know for half a day doesn’t immediately sound like the dream. Really it wasn’t so bad. It was like any other picnic in the park, where people set themselves up with reclining chairs, card tables, laptops, gourmet food spreads. Theater security guards that looked more like summer camp counselors—young, cute, enthusiastic—would come around answering questions and maintaining the peace. They’d let us know our chances based on where we were in line be it ‘The Rock of Hope’, ‘The Tree of Chance’, or where I was, in ‘The Grass of Uncertainty.’ Guys from the local deli would ride by on bicycles calling out names of people who placed phone orders. Yes, a deli delivering to people on line for tickets—only in New York! Seeing it all, I realized that this was, not just any line for tickets, it was…a thing.
At 1:28, as we rounded the last curve of the path from the front of the line, all hope was lost. Tickets were gone. As I walked away, with tired eyes, an aching back and good ole’ fashioned disappointment, I wondered: would I be up for doing this again?
Of course I would.
Day 2 – Wednesday:
Knowing after my first unsuccessful attempt at getting tickets, that the recommended 8am arrival time yielded nothing more than a fat chance, I devised for myself a better, hopefully more profitable plan for Day Two: stay the night at friend’s Upper West Side apartment (two blocks from the park), wake up at five and be out the door by 5:33 (when the forecast says the sunrise takes place), find a better spot in line, get a few hours rest, read a little, write a little, chat with new friends should I make any, and by ten after one, have tickets in hand. Not so much. Staying at friend’s meant two glasses of wine and an accompanying late night of gossip. My 5am wakeup turned out to be 5:14 and by the time I arrived down to street level, it looked as if the sun had been hanging out in the sky for days. When I landed at my spot in line I was pleased to find that I was well in front the Rock of Hope and it’s neighboring tree and grass. This time I was in the mulch (literally) and thanks to smart packing had, in addition to my towel, a large fleece blanket as well. Since I had assumed it would be a sunny day, like the first one, I had on shorts and a short-sleeved tee. But…no, no…I was in the shade. This time rather than a picnic, it felt like camp in the middle of October as there I was curled up in a ball trying to keep warm on the cold, wet earth beneath me.
Oddly enough, as I was walking into the park that second day, I was disappointed not to have my friends from Day 1 there by my side. And then I remembered, that they had started off as strangers. So I continued on to the end of the line with that thought in mind and opened myself up to the possibility that I might meet someone of equal or greater awesomeness. Again, not so much. To my right was a pair of girls my age, but brainier and though fun to eavesdrop on, nowhere near as chummy as my previous visit’s pals. To my left was a man who suffered from a combination of severe social awkwardness, an addiction to Marlboro Reds, and uncomfortably loud gastro-intestinal issues. Fun for me. The day wore on, in many ways the same as the first and in many ways differently. For one, I felt a bit more like a pro at the game. And as a pro, I felt that this time, surely I would get tickets.
At 12:45, we stood up and shuffled along toward the ticket guy. Again, I felt the nervousness rumbling in my tum. And to my utter shock, this time, mere feet away from ticket handoff, again I felt the heartbreak. “Sorry folks,” he said. “We are out of tickets. If you’d like to wait in the standby line…” Ugh! The thought of the standby line made my stomach churn so, I walked away. And again I asked myself, “can you give it one more shot?” Of course I could! Only the next time, I would have an even better plan.
Day 3- Thursday:
As I had proposed that, should I get tickets, she’d get to be my lucky date, I arranged to stay at friend’s apartment a second night. This time it would be one glass of wine, no chit-chat and the alarm set for 4am. (Ya think I’m nuts yet?!) Despite the pitch-black that enveloped me, I woke up as scheduled. After throwing myself together in a matter of no more than ten minutes, I grabbed my bag, this time with yoga mat and pillow and flew out the door to be on the street by 4:15. Streets lights lit my path enough for me to safely arrive at the line of doorman buildings opposite the museum. I kept a run-walk pace and finally reached the park. Just ahead, along the park’s perimeter wall—mind you it was quarter past four IN THE MORNING!!!— there was a line of two hundred people. “Shakespeare in the Park?” the woman at the front asked. “Uh, yeah,” I replied. And following her command I proceeded to the end. Die-hards.
Forty minutes later, as the sun began it’s ascent, the line of us, intact and single file, proceeded to the path, inside the park, where we resettled to begin our wait for the day. The yoga mat was a good idea seeing as how, though I had a better place in line, I landed at a spot on the concrete pathway where I would wait for the next eight hours. There was no way I was leaving this time unless I had a pair of tickets.
As if the early wakeup, run-walking in the dark and finding a line of two-hundred ahead of me wasn’t bad enough, minutes before getting settled on my bed, I practically got tossed from the line after being accused by a frantic and subsequently mistaken woman that I had cut. I don’t think so lady! Did she know me at all? Thankfully, the friendly, young thespian duo beside me came to my defense.
Fast forward to three hours later when after a semi-comfortable sleep, I woke to camp counselor rattling off what had to be nonsense; I hoped I’d heard him wrong. Limited ticket distribution? Regardless of our ordinarily good spot in line today he couldn’t promise anything? I had to be dreaming. No wonder that woman tried to kick me out of line. Chances that any of us past the first hundred people would get tickets were slim. It was dog eat dog. But I’d made it this far and had only four more hours to go. I tried to hang onto hope. I didn’t think I would have it in me to do another day. When people would walk by with a blanket under arm, eager to find their own place in line, though feeling bad about how clueless they were, I would laugh under my breath. Right…no way you’re getting a ticket at this hour. My neighbors in line joked we should have a poster reading simply: 4:30am. Uh huh.
When one o’clock finally rolled around, my nerves were a mess, the whole limited distribution thing looming over our heads. We inched closer…and closer…and a little bit closer. And then the line stopped. I could see camp counselor back and forth with the ticket man. What were they saying? I wanted to scream. And then line started moving again…closer….and closer….and closer, until finally, there I was. “One person, two tickets,” I exclaimed. And off I went, skipping away, tickets in hand.
Three days crack of dawn, twenty-one hours total. At that point, none of it really mattered…cause I was finally, finally, going to Shakespeare in the Park!